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Benefits of an early start

Schemes to boost access to higher education need to start in schools—and to show proof that they work.

The Office for Students has recently consulted on significant changes to the way access and participation plans are managed. Most eye-catching is its proposed switch from an annual planning cycle to one of three to five years, with annual reporting.

This is to be welcomed. The factors that underlie gaps in access between rich and poor, different ethnic groups, men and women, and low and high-participation neighbourhoods cannot be fixed one year at a time. These are deep structural, social and economic inequalities that play out in education achievement and in entry rates to higher education. They demand long-term policy and strategic interventions. The question is how universities can maximise their impact in helping to close these gaps.

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